Defense minister escaped bombing

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New Norwegian Defense Minister Espen Barth Eide was still in Afghanistan on Tuesday when a series of suicide bombers went on the attack, but neither Eide nor other Norwegian soldiers were caught in the explosions. Eide had earlier briefed Norwegian troops on an earlier pullout from Afghanistan than initially planned.

Defense Minister Espen Barth Eide (dark suit) was in Afghanistan when suicide bombers set off a series of attacks. Also pictured here: Ingrid Gjerde, head of the Norwegian contingent in Mazar-e-Sharif, and Norway's ambassador to Afghanistan, Tore Hattrem (grey suit). PHOTO: Forsvaret/Kim Gulbrandsen

The bombings, which Eide described as sectarian violence directed at Shia Muslims, took place in Kabul, Kandahar and Mazar-e-Sharif, where Norwegian soldiers have been stationed for several years. “The Norwegian soldiers are where they should be and have control over their situation,” Eide told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK).

At least 60 persons were killed and many more injured in the explosions including one at a festival in Kabul where thousands of Shia Muslims had gathered for an important holiday once forbidden by the Taliban. Many children were believed to be among those killed.

“This is something we condemn in the strongest of terms,” Eide told NRK. “Even in a hard-pressed country like Afghanistan, violence of this extent is fortunately quite seldom.”

Defense Minister Espen Barth Eide addressing troops in Afghanistan. PHOTO: Forsvaret/Kim Gulbrandsen

Eide has been in Afghanistan many times before but this week’s trip is his first as Norway’s defense minister. He  had announced just the day before the attacks that Norway would withdraw its troops from Afghanistan by the summer of 2013, not 2014 as earlier planned.

“We’re aiming for a controlled and responsible winding-down of our contribution to the forces in northern Afghanistan,” Eide said. “From the summer of 2013, at the latest, we don’t plan to have any Norwegian military forces permanently stationed at Maimanah.”

He stressed that a smaller contingent of soldiers will continue to be stationed at Mazar-e-Sharif until the NATO-led international forces pull out at the end of 2014. They will concentrate on working as instructors at local military schools.

Eide noted that the process of turning over responsibility for security to Afghan forces began in July. He said the Afghan authorities fully support the decision made in 2010 for NATO to withdraw in 2014, and claimed the Afghan army is “steadily developing,” both in numbers and quality.

“The Afghans have shown they are able to plan and carry out some complex operations on their own,” Eide said. He added, though, that the international forces will maintain “necessary support capacity” to back them up. The attacks on Tuesday seemed to confirm a need for such support.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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